Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Brighton Miller
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Timothy Henshaw
Characterization of OXA Mutants by Comparison to the WT Enzyme

Beta-lactamases pose a serious threat to clearing bacterial infections from patients. Their wide diversity has caused havoc in the global healthcare system. Working to understand how these enzymes function is important to overcome this issue. In this study, we look at what could possibly be considered the most versatile and frustrating enzyme of its kind, OXA-24/40. In nature, this enzyme has known mutants G224D and G224D P227S which have been selected for. We attempt to understand how these mutants are advantageous to the organism by performing kinetic analysis. Thus far in the study, we have successfully been able to synthesize the mutant plasmid and purify the enzyme.

Lillian Sauline
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jennifer Hess
Myxococcus xanthus: Variable Predation Strategies of Bacterial Species

The antibiotic crisis is an ongoing threat to health that has expedited the search for new therapeutics to cure bacterial infections. Myxobacteria have been used to discover and develop new antibiotics. One species of particular interest, Myxococcus xanthus, has been analyzed for its predation properties. M. xanthus is a Gram-negative, predatory soil bacterium which utilizes lytic metabolites and antibiotics for predation. This bacterium is able to prey on both Gram-negative and Gram-positive organisms, including the ESKAPE pathogens, six bacteria that have increased antibiotic resistance. The potency of M. xanthus predation against each of the ESKAPE pathogens, however, is not well documented. The aim of this research is to test the predatory success of M. xanthus against these pathogens using variable predation assay methods.

Michelle Thompson
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Timothy Henshaw
Generation of OXA-24/40 Variants at Position 222: Mutagenesis, Enzyme Purification, and Enzyme Kinetic Techniques

OXA-24/40 is one of the multiple enzymes that cause resistance in A. baumannii. These enzymes can disable the entire spectrum of penicillin, cephalosporin, and carbapenem antibiotics which use beta-lactams with a distinct four-membered-ring structure to inhibit bacterial growth. OXA-24/40 is able to resist antibiotic function due to beta-lactamases which hydrolyze the beta-lactam ring. In order to effectively classify the effectiveness of OXA-24/40 on antibiotic resistance, Michaelis-Menten enzyme kinetics is examined. This project investigates the role mutations G222R and G222E play in altering the substrate specificity of the wild-type OXA-24/40. This investigation will try to characterize the oxacillinase on the protein level and determine its effectiveness against beta-lactam substrates. 

Joshua Wierenga
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Rebecca Flaherty
Characterization of HaCaT Keratinocyte Cell Death during Group B Streptococcus Infection

Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infects a wide variety of human tissues including the skin, meninges, vagina, and placenta. GBS is present in 40% of pregnant women and is one of the leading causes of neonatal disease and death.  Over the past thirty years, GBS skin infections have increased significantly, posing a threat toward the elderly and immunocompromised. Much research has been conducted on GBS infection during pregnancy, but not as much is known about how GBS infects human skin and soft tissue.  In light of the current antibiotic crisis and increasing incidence of GBS skin and soft tissue infections, it is more important than ever to understand the mechanism by which GBS interacts with the cells in these tissues. To begin addressing this knowledge gap, we have utilized an Ethidium Homodimer Cell Death Assay to quantify GBS-induced cell death in keratinocytes over the course of infection.  Additionally, we have used Western Blotting to assess the involvement of specific proteins that may regulate cell death signaling in infected keratinocytes.  We anticipate that this work will provide important insights that will help combat severe GBS skin infections. 

Biology and Health Sciences

Michelle Thompson, Yadira S. De-Leon-Lopez
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Rebecca Flaherty
Analysis of Macrophage Cell Death in Response to Diverse Group B Streptococcus (GBS) Isolates

Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a leading cause of preterm birth, stillbirth, neonatal sepsis, and meningitis worldwide.  It is a common resident of the genitourinary tract in approximately 40% of pregnant women and is a risk factor for preterm birth and neonatal disease.  In order to develop effective treatment and diagnostic strategies, there is a critical need to understand how GBS interacts with human tissues to induce inflammation, invade the extraplacental membranes, and harm the fetus or newborn. Macrophages are a key immune system cell type that plays critical roles at the maternal-fetal interface during pregnancy as well as in the immune system of newborn infants. Our lab and others have previously identified differences in macrophage cell death in response to different GBS strains of varying virulence. A key goal of this project will be to explore the type of cell death that is being induced in these macrophages following GBS infection with these diverse strains and to explore some of the macrophage signaling pathways that regulate these responses. 


Nicholas Hegenauer
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Kevin Boyd
The River Narrative: The Development of Low-Cost Ion-Selective Electrodes for Environmental Monitoring

The production of low-cost ion-selective electrodes for monitoring metal levels in small bodies of water (streams, rivers) was pursued using blended polymer matrices (polystyrene, polylactic acid, and polymethylmethacrylate) and Schiff base complexes as ionophores. Four distinct Schiff base ligands were produced (anilinesalicylaldimine (φ-sal), (1-naphthyl)salicylaldimine, isopropylsalicylaldimine, and ethylenediamine-bis-salicylaldimine (salen)) and complexes of these four ligands with Cu2+, Ni2+, Mn2+, and Fe2+ as central ions were synthesized and tested as ionophores. Initially promising results were found with both φ-sal and salen ligands with equimolar mixtures of PS and PMMA as matrices. Both traditional wet electrodes with Ag|AgCl internal electrodes and solid graphite electrodes were produced. Some limited success was found with Cu2+ selectivity on a graphite electrode and Ni2+ selectivity with a traditional wet electrode. A Mn(φ−sal) complex with interesting optical and magnetic properties was synthesized and its properties and identity were explored.

John Van Til
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jonathan Fritz
Tri-Bromination of Cyclopentanone Using a Hydrobromic Acid/Hydrogen Peroxide System

Hydrobromic acid and hydrogen peroxide were used to generate diatomic bromine in-situ in an attempt to synthesize 2,2,5-tribromocyclopentanone from cyclopentanone. Multiple reaction conditions were explored in an attempt to find parameters resulting in a tribrominated major product.

Data Analytics
Ronnie McMillan
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Joseph Fox
Using Industry Insights to Create a Project-Based Approach to Data Analytics

In this project, we conducted a series of interviews with data science practitioners, specifically those who regularly use the statistical programming language R, to gain insights about the skills that are considered valuable in the professional data analytics community.  We used these insights to rework the course MS 282 (Applied Statistics with R), which is a foundational course in the Data Analytics major, making it into a completely project-based experience.  This revamping consisted of writing and testing a series of projects based on industry-provided datasets.


Sydney Wetzel
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Susan Hojnacki
Blogging Abroad: Corroborating Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition Using a Student Kept Study Abroad Blog

The present study analyzed the blog of a language learner during a study abroad semester in Germany to categorize their observations according to second language acquisition theory. This qualitative analysis looked for common learning experiences that bore out the five theories of Stephen Krashen’s Monitor Model. By identifying commonalities in the learner’s observations, the researchers looked for ways to improve preparation for study abroad by coaching students to recognize these common learning experiences and record their SLA progression with a language learning blog. The results suggest that students could be coached to recognize their language learning and capitalize on the five areas of the Monitor Model. These results could have implications for higher education study abroad programs and language learners hoping to maximize their language proficiency gains while studying abroad.

Geography and Environmental Studies

Parker Erickson
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jim Rasmussen & Dr. Rich McCluskey
The Effects of Mountain Biking on West Michigan Trail Systems

This project intended to find the effects mountain bikes have on multi-use trail systems in the Greater Grand Rapids Area. Three trail systems were selected to be analyzed; Cannonsburg State Game Area (CSGA), Luton Park, and Merrell Trail. Each trail was selected due to their unique characteristics. Luton Park is carefully constructed with mountain bikes and trail running in mind, and does not allow use during wet conditions. Merrell is built similarly to Luton, and discourages wet-weather riding, however it is not enforced and largely ignored. CSGA is a loosely constructed and maintained technical trail that has no posted rule on riding in the wet. It is however closed for half of the year for hunting season. By measuring trail width and maximum incision at an interval of 0.2 miles for each trail, basic erosion profiles were created for each trail. It was found that Merrell was both the deepest and the widest of the trails, at over two inches deeper than either of the other trails. Luton came in as the shallowest, supporting the idea that wet-weather riding has a detrimental effect on trails. 

Kyle Pinckney
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Rich McCluskey & Dr. Jim Rasmussen
Exploring Social-Ecological Dynamics in Rewilding Projects: A Case Study of Employee Perceptions in Kent County Parks

This case study focuses on employee perceptions and interactions with rewilding projects in a park setting. Specifically, the study examines how employee perceptions vary according to job responsibilities and experience. The study examines the attitudes and beliefs of seasonal workers, park management, and administration regarding the impacts of rewilding projects on the environment, park usage, and workload. Literature suggests that effective communication among employees and with patrons plays a crucial role in determining the success of rewilding projects. A survey was conducted with 3-7 respondents from each group, with questions focused on familiarity with rewilding projects, frequency, training, reporting, and impact. Likert-scale data was used as a dependent variable, and statistical tests were applied to the data, including Cramer’s V and chi-squared tests. The results suggest that there are differences in perceptions among the three groups regarding the impacts of rewilding projects. These findings suggest that rewilding projects may benefit from increased communication and collaboration between different levels of park management and employees. The study adds to the existing research on rewilding projects and provides insights for park managers and policymakers on how to address concerns and optimize project goals and outcomes on a social-ecological level.

Sarah Thong
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jim Rasmussen & Dr. Rich McCluskey
The Impact of Biochar Soil Amendments on Agricultural Fields in West Michigan

This experimental study aims to understand the impact of biochar soil amendments on agricultural fields in West Michigan. Biochar is carbonized biomass that is made by burning plant-based materials in a limited oxygen environment until only a lightweight residue made of carbon and ashes remains. Biochar has a variety of useful applications such as carbon sequestration, improvement in soil health, and increases in crop productivity and quality. In this study, soil samples were taken from 4 agricultural fields in West Michigan and 2 different biochar soil amendments (Red Oak and White Pine) were used. The field capacity of the soils was compared before and after adding the biochar amendments and radish seeds were grown for 3 weeks to test the hypotheses. It was found that biochar amendments do increase field capacity, or the amount of water that the soil can hold, at the 0.05 level of precision. The White Pine Biochar was found to increase field capacity the most, likely due to the structure of the White Pine being less dense than that of Red Oak. No statistically significant correlation was found between biochar amendments and the above-ground biomass and or the date of germination.


Nicole Gregory
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Shari McCarty
Program Evaluation for Mathematics Education - Secondary Teacher Preparation at Aquinas College

This program evaluation investigated the strengths and weaknesses of Aquinas College’s current Mathematics program with respect to secondary education and teacher preparation. The researchers studied the traits of well-qualified teachers and developed program suggestions that would blend teacher preparation with the existing traditional math content in the major.

Kate Kramm
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Joseph Fox and Dr. Kevin Boyd
Using Calculus to Analyze Chemical Kinetics

The acid-catalyzed hydrolysis of sucrose is nearly a unimolecular reaction, meaning the reaction solely depends on the concentration of sucrose. The data obtained from this reaction is based on the use of polarimeters. This instrument utilizes a polarized light and the angle of its rotation in order to determine concentration of a substance. In this case, the measurement was determining the amount of sucrose remaining as it decomposed into fructose and lactose. The kinetic data obtained in this format is represented as integrated data because the measurement is written as concentration in relation to time. From this, the use of calculus techniques can be used to analyze the data obtained through polarimetry in order to determine the rate constant and order of the reaction from the rate law. 


Margo Ardelean
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Daniel Wagner
Nature, Philosophy, and Latin in St. Thomas Aquinas’ De Principiis Naturae 

The primary goal of this project is twofold. First, the student will acquire basic understanding and habits of Latin forms, grammar, syntax, and vocabulary necessary for producing philosophical translations of the work of St. Thomas Aquinas. Second, the student and faculty mentor will collaborate to produce a philosophical translation of an important selection of text from St. Thomas Aquinas’ De principiis naturae, continuing the tradition of philosophically engaging the Angelic Doctor in his own language of composition. We will continue a translation of De principiis naturae by translating chapter 3. This project is a continuation of previous studies done on the first and second chapters of the De principiis naturae. This work, in turn, constitutes the second stage of a larger project to publish a new translation of the De principiis naturae as a whole, with philosophical commentary, for use by scholars and students.

Political Science

Aiden Raffaele
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Roger Durham
Addressing Climate Change: An Analysis of the Impact of Local Governance

This study evaluates the environmental policy and practice, particularly in the transportation and energy sectors, of U.S. cities with populations between 200,000 and 220,000. Much of the analysis comes from 18 R2 correlations (9 in the transportation sector and 9 in the energy sector) in order to discover the relationships between variables such as area and public transportation ridership, or average temperature and residential natural gas usage. Furthermore, this study seeks to determine if cities of this size have the ability to substantially change their CO2e emissions through city policy and the practice of residents, or if the emissions of these cities are based on factors beyond the municipality’s control. 
Additionally, the study draws out the larger conclusions revealed by examining multiple correlations, such as an “economies of scale” dynamic and the emissions contributions of natural gas and electricity in different sectors. In short, this study looks at a number of variables that pertain to emissions and relevant policies and practices in these cities, and seeks to establish the extent of the relationship between them.


Eliza Brown, Diana Rockstad, Rachael Watson
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jennifer Meador
How College Students Cope with Stress

College students are often faced with varying levels of psychological stress. As a result, they search for ways to cope with these burdensome feelings and to improve their wellbeing. Healthy coping strategies often fall into one of eight categories of wellness: physical, occupational, social, emotional, intellectual, environmental, financial, and spiritual wellness. Whether they are aware or not, college students often use the eight dimensions of wellness when responding to stress. In this study, the researchers seek to explore which dimensions of wellness Aquinas College students are most likely to use when faced with stress. Participants will complete a 35 question Google Forms survey to reflect on their stress levels and coping strategies. Overall, this study will fill a gap in the literature, promote wellness, and improve students' awareness and use of stress related coping mechanisms.   

Gillian Carver, Morgan Cremer
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Daniel Cruikshanks
The Impact of Menstrual Cycle and How it Affects Mental Health in Menstruating Individuals 

The importance of the study is to explore and understand the correlation between mental health and menstruating individuals. Our research is going to explore the issue of mental health declining during menstruation. Exploring how early puberty may have a role in the development of menstrual diagnoses and mental health. Along with the difficulties these may have on the day-to-day tasks. We are researching menstruating individuals and how they feel at the time of the follicular, ovulation, and luteal phases. Our survey wil Hydrobromic acid and hydrogen peroxide were used to generate diatomic bromine in-situ in an attempt to synthesize 2,2,5-tribromocyclopentanone from cyclopentanone. Multiple reaction conditions were explored in an attempt to find parameters resulting in a tribrominated major product. l be administered throughout the three different phases. The survey consists of questions correlating with the  IPIP scale and the symptom checklist 90-R. The hypotheses are that daily tasks are going to be draining and may lead to mental health issues down the road. Along with the hypothesis that the effects mainly happen when women are in the week leading up to their period and the week of their period.  

Nicole Divita, Alanna Ross
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Daniel Cruikshanks 
The Effect of Adverse Childhood Experiences on Borderline Personality Symptoms: A Deeper look at Impulsivity, Emotional Dysregulation, and Attachment

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized by patterns of emotional instability, dysfunction within interpersonal relationships, rapidly changing mood swings, and impulsivity. There has been rising interest in the development of BPD and how environmental factors such as adverse childhood experiences contribute to the onset of this disorder. The purpose of this study will be to determine how childhood maltreatment affects borderline personality features of emotional dysregulation, impulsivity, and attachment style, and if there are any differences between males and females. Participants will be between 100 and 500 English speaking adults who are over the age of 18. The study will be conducted via Google Forms where participants will complete a questionnaire. We will be using the Adult Attachment Scale (Collins and Read, 1990), the International Personality Item Pool scales for impulse control and emotional stability, and the adverse childhood experience scale. We hypothesize that adverse childhood experiences lead to higher rates of impulsivity, emotional dysregulation, and insecure or anxious attachment styles, all of which are features of BPD. The goal of this study is to provide additional evidence of how our environment can influence our development and personality, and potentially lead to the onset of BPD.

Shanna Han, Morgan Ferguson, Lainey (Audrey) Meader 
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jennifer Meador
An Analysis of Social Media Applications and Their Effects on Aquinas College Students' Body Image and Self-Esteem

The current study aims to understand further the connection between social media platforms and their impacts on Aquinas College students’ body image and self-esteem. The following research question includes, what effects do various social media platforms have on Aquinas College students’ opinions of their bodies, and how does that affect their sense of self-worth? The study will include questions regarding physical impacts, mental impacts, gender differences, international connections, and differences in social media apps, along with external factors beyond the bounds of social media. The study extends previous research by exploring the relationship between college students' use of social media and their self-esteem and body image. Men are under-represented in this field and we wish to learn more about men's connection to social media and body image. 

Jonah Maichele, Makenna Lopez
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jennifer Meador
Relationship between Physical Activity and Screen Time on Emotional Development in Children

This literature review will discuss the existing relationship between screen time and physical activity on emotional development in children. This topic has not been studied at great length, but of the research that has been conducted, there is evidence indicating the process of how screen time, physical activity, parenting styles, and routines have affected child emotional development. The pertinent literature reviews the potential negative impacts on emotional development with increased screen time as well as potential positive impacts when children participate in routine activities, increased physical activity, and are engaged in their parents lives. Within the literature, many discrepancies exist, including the inability to determine the optimal amount of screen time compared to physical activity and the impact of the emotional development, as each child is different. Certain measures and guidelines have been implemented such as the daily “hour” of exercise, but regulating the amount of screen time is a difficult issue to address. As a result of these discrepancies, further research needs to be conducted to accurately determine the effects of screen time, activity and parenting have on emotional development in children. 

Kyle Reck, Laney DeBrabander 
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Daniel Cruikshanks 
Examining the effect of parental status on social discomfort and risk of substance use

Divorce impacts an estimated 40-50% of married couples (Wallenborn, Chambers, Lowery, & Masho, 2019). Research has found an increased likelihood of mental and physical health issues in children and adolescents whose parents divorce (El-Sheikh, & Harger, 2001) and increased risk of developing a substance use disorder (Blake, McNeish, & Chassin, 2022). We investigated the relationship between marital status and the likelihood of a child developing social discomfort and/or substance use problems. We conducted an online survey with a final sample of 99 participants. Independent variables included, age of child when parents divorced, primary custodial parent, mental health problems, whether they were raised with split or sole custody, and if the parents remained divorced or remarried. Dependent variables included substance abuse and social discomfort. Participants were adults whose parents are married, divorced, or remarried, with varying levels of social discomfort and substance use. The associations between parental marital status with social discomfort and substance use were analyzed. Results will be presented.

Tabitha Schaub-Carter, Grace Weidmayer, Christopher Benitez 
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jennifer Meador
Researching Symptomology of College Students with, without, and self-diagnosed ADHD

This study investigated the symptomology of ADHD in college students with, without, and self-diagnosed ADHD.  The researchers surveyed reports of college students to analyze ADHD symptom prevalence, severity, and outcomes in their college lives.

Briana Trepa, Hannah Gill, Steffano Riley
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jennifer Meador
Correlation Between Playing Childhood Video Games and Adult Aggression

This study explores the literature on violent video game usage during childhood and its effect on adulthood aggression. While the literature suggests that there is a link between violent video game usage and aggression, we also want to explore the possibilities of other potentially important factors that may contribute to aggression. We look at six measures, which include: Age, Video Games, Parenting Styles, Competitiveness, Aggression, and Crime to see if there are any correlations between them. As a result of the uncertainty in the literature, we have decided further research needs to be conducted to accurately determine whether video game usage as children influences aggression in adulthood.


Yussuf Abdullahi
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Michael Lorr
First Generation Students Support Systems

My broad topic is overall support and first generation college students. I chose this topic to find out what support first generation college students receive and how that hinders them or boosts them in their college experience. There are different aspects at hand that play into the support first generation college students can receive ranging from their family, social networks (friends & peers), and the college. The population I intend to study are those who are labeled first generation college students and who will be the first in their family to finish college, or continue forward past college. This is the population I intend to study because they are in my range of interest and are what my research is based on, so the population of first generation college students will be the most effective for me as it will help me establish my findings and my research as well. This topic is crucial for me to find the literature and the findings because being a first generation college student I always wondered how others were like that were first gen as well as the support system they had or have looks like from a different perspective than my own. 

Alana Calhoun
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jen Lendrum
Aquinas College Students Experiences with Food:Access & Barriers

Food insecurity is a social problem and public health concern that impacts many communities. Food insecurity is a lack of consistent access to affordable and healthy foods.There are many factors that may contribute to food insecurity among college students, including individual and household economic barriers, college tuition obligations, and limited employment opportunities (Henry, 2017). Universities provide some resources for students dealing with food insecurity, however there may be gaps in the resources (Miller et al, 2019). In addition, there are gaps in knowledge and awareness about the availability (and conditions) of available resources. To explore these issues at Aquinas College, we conducted a survey study entitled: Aquinas College Students Experiences with Food:Access & Barriers, to answer research questions regarding Aquinas College students’ experiences with food insecurity and their knowledge of and willingness to utilize campus resources. The preliminary data highlights barriers to food on and near Aquinas College campus as well as the stigma associated with food insecurity. The emerging theme of “more,” whether it be information, resources, flexibility, etc., will be communicated to the Aquinas community through possible recommendations to address these issues. 

Gillian Carver
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Michael Lorr
Discrimination & Society: A look into Romantic Interracial Relationships

The purpose of this research is to examine interracial relationships and the discrimination each individual in the relationship encounters. Highlighting that this has been an ongoing issue historically; interracial relationships were first banned in 1664 and it wasn’t until 1967 that it was legal in all U.S. states. Indicating that interracial relationships have only been “accepted” for approximately 55 years. This research explores the limited scholarly articles on the topic. The literature I have explored discusses interracial friendships, interracial relationship experiences, and discrimination and the effect it has on mental health. This limited literature doesn’t discuss the individual’s experienced discrimination that society puts on them. With this research, I will be able to examine the gaps I have found in this literature. Such as the discrimination each individual in interracial relationships experiences and how it affects their relationship as a whole.  The research questions that are examined throughout this research are: What kinds of discrimination do individuals in an interracial relationship encounter? How does discrimination affect the relationship? 

Brionne Crews
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Michael Lorr
Collegiate Athletes & Institutional Support: The Relationship between Aquinas College Faculty and Athletic Burnout

This study was conducted to understand the relationship between student athlete burnout and social support within Aquinas College. Student athlete burnout consists of  physical/ emotional exhaustion along with a reduced sense of accomplishment  and devaluation in sport. When looking at the physical and emotional exhaustion of student athlete burnout, Aquinas college offers resources but in many senses student athletes feel that they don't have time to use these services. Studies that have looked at student athletes burnout and social support suggest that perceived and received support, coach athletes relationship, and not having autonomy over one’s sport contribute to the burnout of these college athletes.  The purpose of this is to understand do these college athletes feel supported by Aquinas College with the following research question: What does social support in the college do for college athletes that experience burnout? 

Marsha Hacker
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jen Lendrum and Dr. Michael Lorr
The Gendered Experience of Esports

For my research project, I am studying how gender impacts an individual's experience in esports by primarily looking at gender minority experiences. Esports is a quickly growing industry that is built upon the largely sexist culture of video games. I plan to study this gender-divided experience through respondents to a survey. The population used for this research is esports members who also are a part of the gender minority, meaning individuals who identify as non-male and have some experience in the esports environment. The goal of this project is to gain more insights into the gendered environment of esports in order to better understand and make steps towards creating a safe and welcoming place for all genders. 

Mallory Ignasiak
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jen Lendrum and Dr. Michael Lorr
Stress and Its Coping Mechanisms in Undergraduate College Students

Feelings of stress frequently take place in the lives of college students. Adapting to this new condition called “campus life” involves a lot of change and uncertainty. Students are required to meet academic deadlines, while also maintaining healthy social relationships with their friends and family. However, this may differ among men and women. Studies have shown there is a gender difference in the experience of stress. Not only that, existing data has also depicted a difference in the management of stress among race, ethnicity, sexuality, and other gender identities. Coping strategies can be divided into two groups: problem-solving and avoidant. In the literature, it’s apparent that one strategy is better than the other. With this study, the management of stress will be considered in the lives of undergraduate college students at Aquinas College. Interviews would have been conducted, yet, due to time constraints, emailed surveys and flyers had to suffice. In the end, the study will approach this from an interpretative stance, while also developing some ideas from the concept of gender theory.

Ada Shaw
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jen Lendrum
Factors Shaping Trends of Poor(er) Mental Health: An Exploratory Mixed-Methods Study of Grand Rapids

As a collective, we are experiencing long-term, cumulative socio-cultural stressors that negatively impact our health and overall well-being (Garfin, et al, 2018; Phelan et al, 2000). Americans now dealing with depression or anxiety-related symptoms has increased to about 4 in 10, an increase from 1 in 10 from 2019 (Panchal, et al, 2021). This ethnographic research explores social factors that contribute to well-being in the city of Grand Rapids, in particular: 1.) religion; 2.) social networks; and 3.) public spaces. The main purpose of this research is to explore the complex factors that contribute to poor mental health in West Michigan. It further seeks to examine the role of structural forces including the local labor market and availability of “good” jobs, the structure of the neighborhood, in particular “other” spaces such as porches and parks, the role of local churches as a place of worship and support, and the role of community and social networks.

World Languages

Casey Zeiler 
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Katharina Häusler-Gross
Healing Trauma in Military Personnel with Creative Arts: A Community-Engaged Approach

The present study seeks to explore alternative ways to address mental health issues (including PTSD, depression, substance abuse, and low self-esteem) experienced by current US military members and veterans during their time of service. A review of the recent scholarship on this topic was undertaken to examine the advantages of non-verbal therapies (art therapy) to treat military-induced trauma in individuals who lack the ability to express their experiences with language, and explore the benefits that specific art therapy techniques (painting, drawing, working with clay) offer as potential treatment options. This paper proposes the creation of a physical ‘safe space’ that also serves as a community center for traumatized military personnel (both past and present), where individuals can collaborate with trained experts (art therapists, counselors) to process their experiences by creating art with various media while benefiting from an integrated civilian support system. While further research is needed to assess the  long-term effects of art therapy approaches, this study outlines the potential benefits this project could hold for different demographic groups that have been exposed to potentially traumatic events (e.g., physical/sexual assault, mental/substance disorders).

Mackenzie Wnuk
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Katharina Häusler-Gross
Learning from Europe: Exploring Strategies that Foster a Healthy and Sustainable Workplace Culture for Employees

In response to post-pandemic studies that highlighted the increased importance of a healthy and sustainable work-life balance for the overall well-being of employees, this paper seeks to provide a better understanding of the concept in German-speaking countries, while also outlining potential benefits to improve the health and performance of individuals in the workplace.
A comparative study of workplace cultures and workplace demands in German vs. American companies revealed significant differences that do not favor the latter. In fact, the ‘inability’ of US employees to disconnect from their work stands in stark contrast to Europeans who exhibit more respect for the delineation between work and personal life.
Based on the results obtained from an examination of selected cultural, structural, economic, and social differences between Europe and the US, this study describes key strategies and policies that are utilized by German, Austrian and Swiss companies, which could also be adopted in the US.
However, additional research is needed that measures the qualitative and quantitative output of these initiatives (or programs) to aid companies with the effective implementation of strategies geared to improve the work-life balance in day-to-day workplace operations.

Sydney Wetzel
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Katharina Häusler-Gross
A Snippet of Story-Based Learning: Using Narration to Teach High School German within Historical Context

The present study aimed to create a model of an adaptable story-based unit plan, which could be incorporated into the curriculum of an advanced level high school German classroom.In order to meet this goal, a qualitative analysis of current scholarly research  on story-based learning and related teaching methods was conducted. This review  revealed both engaging and effective learning events which were used to build the theoretical unit with accompanying lesson plans.
The model unit contained 16 lessons on a variety of German history topics for ACTFL Intermediate level (German IV) high school students. The results of this study suggest that story-based learning could positively affect overall learning gains in a variety of academic subjects when utilized as the basis of either in-class activities or an entire curriculum. While the story-based unit created for this project is sound in theory, further research with an experimental group must be conducted to fully establish this unit as a functioning, adaptive model